Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Vice of Toleration

     It is a good practice to go back and read books that are wise and helped shape your thinking at a point in your past.  Good books can provide fresh vision to changing times and even for you as a changed reader.  I recently made my way back through two books that examine the idea and social practice of tolerance.  The one book (When Tolerance Is No Virtue,1993) is a spectacular sociological examination of the ways that some people call for and coerce toleration in social settings.  The other book (The Long Truce, 2001) is a first rate exploration of the philosophical roots and the history of the ways some people call for and coerce toleration, especially with ideological agendas in mind.
     Conyers makes a sophisticated case that what happened historically is that the idea of toleration has been morphed from a noble, ancient and universal belief grounded in common humanity and humility toward a socially constructed agenda that shapes public policy to manipulate unknowing diverse populations.  
     Gaede, from a sociological view, recognizes that toleration, when moved to the logical and practical conclusion, will allow without hindrance all cultures, behavior, and ideas to endure without repugnance of other peoples.  Both authors make the case in different ways that what actually happens is that behavior nearly universally condemned will eventually be tolerated and then embraced by the masses.
     So it might look something like this: imagine a behavior that in the 1960's nearly all Americans deemed immoral.  As time progresses, a subgroup considers this behavior a great good.  This group by means of sociological propaganda (think movies, music, and television) and political power (think lots of disposable income and political manipulation) is able to get the masses to no longer condemn the behavior.  Move further down the line historically.  It will eventually come to be that anyone that questions or criticizes said behavior will be branded "intolerant," and of now of all the various behaviors, "intolerance" will simply not be tolerated!
     The reader could easily imagine any number of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes once considered a vice will now be protected under the bold socially constructed banner of tolerance.  Gaede and Conyers seem to have been prophetic and at this moment. We can only imagine that if the prophets of old were alive today they would be executed in the public square for all of their intolerance of the idols near and far that we construct.  The only thing a righteous person can do is to strive for civility and oppose what ought to be opposed, tolerate what ought to be tolerated, and reject the vice of intolerant toleration.